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The Church Against the World by H. Richard Niebuhr, Wilhelm Pauck and Francis P. Miller


H. Richard Niebuhr was associate professor of Christian ethics at Yale University Divinity School from 1931. Prior to that he taught at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Mo., served as President of Elmhurst (Illinois) College, and held pastorates in St. Louis, Mo., and in Clinton, CT. Wilhelm Pauch represented, it was said, the first important post-war gift of the theological faculties of Germany to the religious thinking of America. He came to the Chicago Theological Seminary as an exchange student in 1925, later serving there as professor of Church History. In 1931 Dr. Pauck became a force to be reckoned with in American church life by the publication of Karl Barth: Prophet of a New Christianity. Francis P. Miller was chairman of the World Student Christian Federation, having come to that responsibility after long service as one of the national secretaries of the federation in the United States and as administrative secretary of the world body. He was also the field secretary of the Foreign Policy Association, America's foremost organization for the study of foreign affairs. These positions of leadership required extensive travel in America, Europe and the Far East, and enabled him to discuss the problems of International Christianity against a background of almost unrivaled political as well as religious knowledge. A graduate of Washington and Lee, he later studied at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, and at Yale. Published in 1935 by Willett, Clark and Company, Chicago, New York. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Richard and Sue Kendall


Part III: Toward the Independence of the Church, by H. Richard Niebuhr


The relation of the church to civilization is necessarily a varying one since each of these entities is continually changing and each is subject to corruption and to conversion. The history of the relationship is marked by periods of conflict, of alliance, and of identification. A converted church in a corrupt civilization withdraws to its upper rooms, into monasteries and conventicles; it issues forth from these in the aggressive evangelism of apostles, monks and friars, circuit riders and missionaries; it relaxes its rigorism as it discerns signs of repentance and faith; it enters into inevitable alliance with converted emperors and governors, philosophers and artists, merchants and entrepreneurs, and begins to live at peace in the culture they produce under the stimulus of their faith; when faith loses its force, as generation follows generation, discipline is relaxed, repentance grows formal, corruption enters with idolatry, and the church, tied to the culture which it sponsored, suffers corruption with it. Only a new withdrawal followed by a new aggression can then save the church and restore to it the salt with which to savor society. This general pattern has been repeated three times in the past: in the ancient world, in the medieval, and in the modern. It may be repeated many times in the future. Yet the interest of any generation of Christians lies less in the pattern as a whole than in its own particular relation to the prevailing civilization. The character of that relation is defined not only by the peculiar character of the contemporary church and the contemporary culture but even more by the demand which the abiding gospel makes upon Christianity. The task of the present generation appears to lie in the liberation of the church from its bondage to a corrupt civilization. It would not need to be said that such an emancipation can be undertaken only for the sake of a new aggression and a new participation in constructive work, were there not so many loyal churchmen who shy away at every mention of withdrawal as though it meant surrender and flight rather than renewal and reorganization prior to battle. Their strategy calls for immediate attack, as though the church were unfettered, sure of its strength and of its plan of campaign.

In speaking of the church's emancipation from the world we do not imply, as the romantic perversion of Christianity implies, that civilization as such is worldly, in the apostolic meaning of that term. Nor do we identify the world with nature as spiritualist asceticism does. The essence of worldliness is neither civilization nor nature, but idolatry and lust. Idolatry is the worship of images instead of that which they image; it is the worship of man, the image of God, or of man's works, images of the image of God. It appears wherever finite and relative things or powers arc regarded as ends-in-themselves, where man is treated as existing for his own sake, where civilization is valued for civilization's sake, where art is practiced for art's sake, where life is lived for life's sake or nation adored for nation's sake. It issues in a false morality, which sets up ideals that do not correspond to the nature of human life and promulgates laws that are not the laws of reality but the decrees of finite, self-aggrandizing and vanishing power. Worldliness may be defined in New Testament terms as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. As idolatry is the perversion of worship so lust is the perversion of love. It is desire desiring itself, or desire stopping short of its true object, seeking satisfaction in that which is merely the symbol of the satisfactory. It is pride, the perversion of faith, since it is faith in self instead of the faith of a self in that which gives meaning to self hood. Such worldliness is far more dangerous to man in civilization than in primitive life because of the interdependence of developed society and the power of its units. The temptation to idolatry and lust is the greater the more man is surrounded by the works of his own hands. Moreover, every civilization is conditioned in all its forms by its faith, be it idolatrous or divine, so that it is difficult to draw a precise line between culture and religion. Nevertheless, Christianity regards worldliness rather than civilization as the foe of the gospel and of men; it rejects the ascetic and romantic efforts to solve life's problems by flight from civilization.

Idolatry and lust can be directed to many things. Worldliness is protean; understood and conquered in one form it assumes another and yet another. In contemporary civilization it appears as a humanism which regards man as existing for his own sake and which makes him the object of his own worship. It appears also as a nationalism in which man is taught to live and die for his own race or country as the ultimate worthful reality, and which requires the promotion of national power and glory at the expense of other nations as well as of the individuals with their own direct relation to the eternal. It has exhibited itself in the guise of a capitalism for which wealth is the great creative and redemptive power, and as an industrialism which worships the tawdry products of human hands as the sources of life's meaning. Humanity, nation, wealth, industry -- these are all hut finite entities, neither good nor bad in themselves; in their rightful place they become ministers to the best; regarded and treated as self-sufficient and self-justifying they become destructive to self and others. In the modern world they have become ends-in-themselves. A culture which was made possible only by the liberation of men from ancient idolatries and lusts has succumbed to its own success. It is not merely a secular culture, as though it had simply eliminated religion from its government, business, art and education. It has not eliminated faith but substituted a worldly for a divine faith. It has a religion which, like most religion, is bad -- an idolatrous faith which brings with it a train of moral consequences, destructive of the lives of its devotees and damning them to a hell of dissatisfaction, inner conflict, war and barbarism as lurid as any nether region which the imagination of the past conceived.

The church allied with the civilization in which this idolatry prevails has become entangled not only in its culture but also in its worldliness. This captivity of the church is the first fact with which we need to deal in our time.

 

I. THE CAPTIVE CHURCH

The church is in bondage to capitalism. Capitalism in its contemporary form is more than a system of ownership and distribution of economic goods. It is a faith and a way of life. It is faith in wealth as the source of all life's blessings and as the savior of man from his deepest misery. It is the doctrine that man's most important activity is the production of economic goods and that all other things are dependent upon this. On the basis of this initial idolatry it develops a morality in which economic worth becomes the standard by which to measure all other values and the economic virtues take precedence over courage, temperance, wisdom and justice, over charity, humility and fidelity. Hence nature, love, life, truth, beauty and justice are exploited or made the servants of the high economic good. Everything, including the lives of workers, is made a utility, is desecrated and ultimately destroyed. Capitalism develops a discipline of its own but in the long run makes for the overthrow of all discipline since the service of its god demands the encouragement of unlimited desire for that which promises -- but must fail -- to satisfy the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.

The capitalist faith is not a disembodied spirit. It expresses itself in laws and social habits and transforms the whole of civilization. It fashions society into an economic organization in which production for profit becomes the central enterprise, in which the economic relations of men are regarded as their fundamental relations, in which economic privileges are most highly prized, and in which the resultant classes of men are set to struggle with one another for the economic goods. Education and government are brought under the sway of the faith. The family itself is modified by it. The structure of cities and their very architecture is influenced by the religion. So intimate is the relation between the civilization and the faith, that it is difficult to participate in the former without consenting to the latter and becoming entangled in its destructive morality. It was possible for Paul's converts to eat meat which had been offered to idols without compromising with paganism. But the products which come from the altars of this modern idolatry -- the dividends, the privileges, the status, the struggle -- are of such a sort that it is difficult to partake of them without becoming involved in the whole system of misplaced faith and perverted morality. 1

No antithesis could be greater than that which obtains between the gospel and capitalist faith. The church has known from the beginning that the love of money is the root of evil, that it is impossible to serve God and Mammon, that they that have riches shall hardly enter into life, that life does not consist in the abundance of things possessed, that the earth is the Lord's and that love, not self-interest, is the first law of life. Yet the church has become entangled with capitalist civilization to such an extent that it has compromised with capitalist faith and morality and become a servant of the world. So intimate have the bonds between capitalism and Protestantism become that the genealogists have suspected kinship. Some have ascribed the parentage of capitalism to Protestantism while others have seen in the latter the child of the former. But whatever may have been the relation between the modest system of private ownership which a Calvin or a Wesley allowed and the gospel they proclaimed, that which obtains between the high capitalism of the later period and the church must fall under the rule of the seventh and not of the fifth commandment, as a Hosea or a Jeremiah would have been quick to point out. The entanglement with capitalism appears in the great economic interests of the church, in its debt structure, in its dependence through endowments upon the continued dividends of capitalism, and especially in its dependence upon the continued gifts of the privileged classes in the economic society. This entanglement has become the greater the more the church has attempted to keep pace with the development of capitalistic civilization, not without compromising with capitalist ideas of success and efficiency. At the same time evidence of religious syncretism, of the combination of Christianity with capitalist religion, has appeared. The "building of the kingdom of God" has been confused in many a churchly pronouncement with the increase of church possessions or with the economic advancement of mankind. The church has often behaved as though the saving of civilization and particularly of capitalist civilization were its mission. It has failed to apply to the morality of that civilization the rigid standards which it did not fail to use where less powerful realities were concerned. The development may have been inevitable, nevertheless it was a fall.

The bondage of the church to nationalism has been more apparent than its bondage to capitalism, partly because nationalism is so evidently a religion, partly because it issues in the dramatic sacrifices of war -- sacrifices more obvious if not more actual than those which capitalism demands and offers to its god. Nationalism is no more to be confused with the principle of nationality than capitalism is to be confused with the principle of private property. Just as we can accept, without complaint against the past, the fact that a private property system replaced feudalism, so we can accept, without blaming our ancestors for moral delinquency, the rise of national organization in place of universal empire. But as the private property system became the soil in which the lust for possessions and the worship of wealth grew up, so the possibility of national independence provided opportunity for the growth of religious nationalism, the worship of the nation, and the lust for national power and glory. And as religious capitalism perverted the private property system, so religious nationalism corrupted the nationalities. Nationalism regards the nation as the supreme value, the source of all life's meaning, as an end-in-itself and a law to itself. It seeks to persuade individuals and organizations to make national might and glory their main aim in life. It even achieves a certain deliverance of men by freeing them from their bondage to self. In our modern polytheism it enters into close relationship with capitalism, though not without friction and occasional conflict, and sometimes it appears to offer an alternative faith to those who have become disillusioned with wealth-worship. Since the adequacy of its god is continually called into question by the existence of other national deities, it requires the demonstration of the omnipotence of nation and breeds an unlimited lust for national power and expansion. But since the god is limited the result is conflict, war and destruction. Despite the fact that the nationalist faith becomes obviously dominant only in times of sudden or continued political crisis, it has had constant and growing influence in the West, affecting particularly government and education.

The antithesis between the faith of the church and the nationalist idolatry has always been self-evident. The prophetic revolution out of which Christianity eventually came was a revolution against nationalist religion. The messianic career of Jesus developed in defiance of the nationalisms of Judaism and of Rome. In one sense Christianity emerged out of man's disillusionment with the doctrine that the road to life and joy and justice lies through the exercise of political force and the growth of national power. The story of its rise is the history of long struggle with self-righteous political power. Yet in the modern world Christianity has fallen into dependence upon the political agencies which have become the instruments of nationalism and has compromised with the religion they promote. The division of Christendom into national units would have been a less serious matter had it not resulted so frequently in a division into nationalistic units. The close relation of church and state in some instances, the participation of the church in the political life in other cases, has been accompanied by a syncretism of nationalism and Christianity. The confusion of democracy with the Christian ideal of life in America, of racialism and the gospel in Germany, of Western nationalism and church missions in the Orient, testify to the compromise which has taken place. The churches have encouraged the nations to regard themselves as messianic powers and have supplied them with religious excuses for their imperialist expansions and aggressions. And in every time of crisis it has been possible for nationalism to convert the major part of the church, which substituted the pagan Baal for the great Jehovah, without being well aware of what it did, and promoted a holy crusade in negation of the cross. The captivity of the church to the world of nationalism does not assume so dramatic a form as a rule, yet the difficulty of Christianity in achieving an international organization testifies to the reality of its bondage.

Capitalism and nationalism are variant forms of a faith which is more widespread in modern civilization than either. It is difficult to label this religion. It may be called humanism, but there is a humanism that, far from glorifying man, reminds him of his limitations the while it loves him in his feebleness and aspiration. It has become fashionable to name it liberalism, but there is a liberalism which is interested in human freedom as something to be achieved rather than something to be assumed and praised. It may be called modernism, but surely one can live in the modern world, accepting its science and engaging in its work, without falling into idolatry of the modern. The rather too technical term "anthropocentrism" seems to be the best designation of the faith. It is marked on its negative side by the rejection not only of the symbols of the creation, the fall and the salvation of men, but also of the belief in human dependence and limitation, in human wickedness and frailty, in divine forgiveness through the suffering of the innocent. Positively it affirms the sufficiency of man. Human desire is the source of all values. The mind and the will of man are sufficient instruments of his salvation. Evil is nothing but lack of development. Revolutionary second-birth is unnecessary. Although some elements of the anthropocentric faith are always present in human society, and although it was represented at the beginning of the modern development, it is not the source but rather the product of modern civilization. Growing out of the success of science and technology in understanding and modifying some of the conditions of life, it has substituted veneration of science for scientific knowledge, and glorification of human activity for its exercise. Following upon the long education in which Protestant and Catholic evangelism had brought Western men to a deep sense of their duty, this anthropocentrism glorified the moral sense of man as his natural possession and taught him that he needed no other law than the one within. Yet, as in the case of capitalism and nationalism, the faith which grew out of modern culture has modified that culture. During the last generations the anthropocentric faith has entered deeply into the structure of society and has contributed not a little to the megapolitanism and megalomania of contemporary civilization.

The compromise of the church with anthropocentrism has come almost imperceptibly in the course of its collaboration in the work of culture. It was hastened by the tenacity of Christian traditionalism, which appeared to leave churchmen with no alternative than one between worship of the letter and worship of the men who wrote the letters. Nevertheless, the compromise is a perversion of the Christian position. The more obvious expressions of the compromise have been frequent but perhaps less dangerous than the prevailing one by means of which Christianity appeared to remain true to itself while accepting the anthropocentric position. That compromise was the substitution of religion for the God of faith. Man's aspiration after God, his prayer, his worship was exalted in this syncretism into a saving power, worthy of a place alongside science and art. Religion was endowed with all the attributes of Godhead, the while its basis was found in human nature itself. The adaptation of Christianity to the an- thropocentric faith appeared in other ways: in the attenuation of the conviction of sin and of the necessity of rebirth, in the substitution of the human claim to immortality for the Christian hope and fear of an after-life, in the glorification of religious heroes, and in the efforts of religious men and societies to become saviors.

The captive church is the church which has become entangled with this system or these systems of worldliness. It is a church which seeks to prove its usefulness to civilization, in terms of civilization's own demands. It is a church which has lost the distinctive note and the earnestness of a Christian discipline of life and has become what every religious institution tends to become -- the teacher of the prevailing code of morals and the pantheon of the social gods. It is a church, moreover, which has become entangled with the world in its desire for the increase of its power and prestige and which shares the worldly fear of insecurity.

How the church became entangled and a captive in this way may be understood. To blame the past for errors which have brought us to this pass is to indulge in the ancient fallacy of saying that the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge. The function of the present is neither praise nor blame of the past. It is rather the realization of the prevailing situation and preparation for the next task.

II. THE REVOLT IN THE CHURCH

The realization of the dependence of the church is widespread and has led to revolt. There is revolt against the church and revolt within the church. Both of these uprisings have various aspects. The revolt against the church is in part the rebellion of those who have found in Christianity only the pure traditionalism of doctrine and symbol which have become meaningless through constant repetition without rethinking and through the consequent substitution of symbol for reality. In part it is a revulsion against the sentimentality which substituted for the ancient symbols, with the realities to which they pointed, the dubious realities of man's inner religious and moral life. In part it is the revolt of those who see in the church the willing servitor of tyrannical social institutions and classes. On the one hand, the intellectuals abandon the church because of its traditionalism or romanticism; on the other hand, disinherited classes and races protest against it as the ally of capitalist, racial or nationalist imperialism. But these revolts against the church are not the most significant elements in the present situation, from the church's point of view. They represent desertions and attacks inspired not by loyalty to the church's own principles but rather by devotion to interests other than those of the church. Such desertions and attacks, however justified they may seem from certain points of view, serve only to weaken the church and to increase its dependence. Only a churchly revolt can lead to the church's independence.

The revolt within the church has a dual character. It is a revolt both against the "world" of contemporary civilization and against the secularized church. No other institution or society in the Western world seems to be so shot through with the spirit of rebellion against the secular system with its abuses, as is the church. No other institution seems to harbor within it so many rebels against its own present form. They are rebels who are fundamentally loyal -- loyal, that is to say, to the essential institution while they protest against its corrupted form. They have no alternative religions or philosophies of life to which they might wish to flee. A few, to be sure, leave the church year by year, yet even among these loyalty is often manifest. Some of the rebels remain romanticists who try to build "a kingdom of God" with secular means. More of them are frustrated revolutionaries who hate "the world" which outrages their consciences and denies their faith but who know of no way in which they can make their rebellion effective or by which they can reconcile themselves to the situation.

Like every revolt in its early stages, the Christian revolution of today is uncertain of its ends and vague in its strategy. It seems to be a sentiment and a protest rather than a theory and a plan of action. It is a matter of feeling, in part, just because the situation remains unanalyzed. It issues therefore in many ill-tempered accusations and in blind enthusiasms. Sometimes it concentrates itself against some particular feature of the secular civilization which seems particularly representative of its character. Perhaps the crusade against the liquor traffic was indebted for some of its force to the uneasy conscience of a church which was able to treat this particular phase of the "world" as the symbol and representative of all worldliness. As in all such emotional revolts there is a temptation to identify the evil with some evildoer and to make individual men -- capitalists, munitions-manufacturers, dictators -- responsible for the situation. Thus early Christians may have dealt with Nero, and Puritans with popes. The confusion of the revolt in the church is apparent, however, not only in its emotionalism but also in its association with revolting groups outside the church. In the beginning of every uprising against prevailing customs and institutions disparate groups who share a common antagonism are likely to assume that they share a common loyalty. It was so when princes and protestants and peasants arose against the Roman church and empire; it was so also when Puritans, Presbyterians, Independents and sectarians rose against King Charles. Dissenters and democrats united in opposing the established church in American colonies. Such groups are united in their negations, not in their affirmations. Their positive loyalties, for the sake of which they make a common rejection, may be wholly different. The revolt in the church against the "world" and against "the world in the church" is confused today because of such associations. This confusion implies perils and temptations which may lead to disaster or to the continued captivity of the church. For if it is a frequent experience that common antagonism is confused with common loyalty, it is also well known that allies are prone to fight among themselves because of their variant interests. One danger to the Christian revolt is that it will enter into alliance with forces whose aims and strategies are so foreign to its own that when the common Victory is won -- if won it can be -- the revolutionary church will be left with the sad reflection that it supplied the "Fourteen Points" which gave specious sanctity to an outrageous peace and that its fruits of victory are an external prosperity based on rotting foundations and debts which it cannot collect without destroying its own life.

The danger of such alliance or identification is not a fancied peril. The eagerness with which some of the leaders of the Christian revolt identify the gospel with the ideals and strategies of radical political parties, whether they be proletarian or nationalistic, the efforts to amalgamate gospel and political movements in a Christian socialism or in a Christian nationalism indicate the reality of the danger. It is not always understood by the American section of the Christian revolt that a considerable section of the so-called German Christian movement, in which the confusion of gospel and nationalism prevails, had sources in just such a reaction as its own against an individualistic, profit-loving and capitalistic civilization, and against the church in alliance with that civilization. There are many social idealists among these Germanizers of the gospel; and their fervor is essentially like that of the other idealists who equate the kingdom of God with a proletarian socialist instead of a national socialist society. The "social gospel," in so far as it is the identification of the gospel with a certain temporal order, is no recent American invention. In the history of Europe and America there have been many similar efforts which sought ideal ends, identified the church with political agencies, and succeeded in fastening upon society only some new form of power control against which the church needed again to protest and rebel. Christianity has been confused in the past, in situations more or less similar to the present, with the rule of the Roman Empire, with feudalism, with the divine right of kings, with the rule of majorities, with the dominance of the Northern States over the Southern, with the extension of Anglo-Saxon influence in the Orient. The confusion was as explicable and as specious in every instance as is the identification of Christianity with radical political movements today. Yet in every instance the result was a new tyranny, a new disaster and a new dependence of the church. It is one thing for Christians to take a responsible part in the political life of their nation; it is another thing to identify the gospel and its antagonism to the "world" with the "worldly" antagonism of some revolting group.

The common social ideal or hope of the West includes the establishment of liberty, equality, fraternity, justice and peace. Almost ever revolting movement in the past as well as in the present has fought in the name of this ideal and sought to establish it. With the ideal, Christianity cannot but have profound sympathy, for Christianity taught it first of all to the Western world. But every political and social revolt is based on the belief that the ideal can be established through the exercise of power by a disinterested group or person, be it the feudal group, the monarch, the middle class or the proletariat. To identify Christianity with one form of the messianic delusion and of the philosophy of power, while rejecting another, is to be guilty of emotional and wishful thinking. In so far as every new revolt is an attack upon the philosophy and structure of power politics and self-righteousness, Christianity cannot but sympathize with it; in so far as it is itself a new form of the philosophy, Christianity must reject it or at least refuse to identify itself with it. So long, of course, as the church has no faith in a divine revolution and no strategy of its own for participation in that revolution it will need to commit itself to some other revolutionary faith and strategy or remain conservative. But in such a case it can have no true existence as a church; it can function only as the religious institution of a revolting society, serving the interests of the society in the same way that a capitalist church serves a capitalist society.

The revolt in the church faces another danger in consequence of the tendency toward the identification of Christianity with revolting secular movements. Multitudes of Christians who had become aware of tension between the gospel and the world but who are also aware of the irreconcilability of the Christian faith with the faiths of communism, socialism or fascism are forced to make a choice between impossible alternatives. The greater part of them are driven into reaction, for the old identification of Christianity with the prevailing "worldliness" is at least more familiar to them than the new. The fruit of false action today in Christianity as in civilization will be reaction, not a true revolution. Similar movements in the past offer unmistakable lessons on this point. The confusion of Christian and of political Puritanism played no small part in bringing on the Restoration. The identification of the protest against slavery with the interests of the Northern States drove many Christians in the South to the defense of the "peculiar institution," made the Civil War inevitable and contributed to the continuation of the race problem. There is no guarantee that reaction can be avoided under any circumstances, but it may be held in check. There is no guarantee that overt struggle can be avoided, but it is criminal to make civil, class or international war the more likely by confusing issues and by arousing the passions which religious fervor can awaken. And in the end the solution will be as little to the mind of Christians as the unsolved problem was.

The dangers and temptations which beset the Christian revolt offer no excuse for acquiescence. The danger which confronts the world in the midst of its idolatries and lusts is too real, the message of the church is too imperative, the misery of men is too actual to make quiescence possible. But the moment requires the church to stand upon its own feet, to do its work in its own way, to carry on its revolt against "the world," not in dependence upon allies or associates, but independently. In any case the revolt in the church against secularization of life and the system of "worldliness" points the way to the declaration of its independence.

 

III. TOWARD THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE CHURCH

The declaration of the church's independence, when it comes, will not begin on the negative note. A movement toward emancipation cannot become effective so long as it is only a rejection of false loyalties and entanglements. Loyalties can be recognized to be false only when a true loyalty has been discovered. Moreover, independence is not desirable for its own sake. To seek it for its own sake means to seek it for the sake of self and to substitute loyalty to a self-sufficient self for loyalty to an alien power. But the church can have no illusion of self-sufficiency. Neither can it trust itself to play a messianic role in the deliverance of mankind. It knows too well that hierocracies have not been shining examples of justice among the aristocracies, monarchies, democracies, plutocracies, race tyrannies and class rules which have oppressed mankind.

The church's declaration of independence can begin only with the self-evident truth that it and all life are dependent upon God, that loyalty to him is the condition of life and that to him belong the kingdom and the power and the glory. Otherwise the emancipation of the church from the world is impossible; there is no motive for it nor any meaning in it. There is no flight out of the captivity of the church save into the captivity of God. Such words must seem to many to be pious and meaningless platitudes, mere gestures of respect to the past and bare of that realism which the present moment demands. That this is so is but another illustration of the extent to which the faith of the church has been confounded with the belief in the ideas, wishes and sentiments of men, and to which the word God has been made the symbol, not of the last reality with which man contends, but of his own aspirations. It remains true that loyalty to the "I am that I am" is the only reason for the church's existence and that the recovery of this loyalty is the beginning of true emancipation. It is even more true that this loyalty is not our own creation but that through the destruction of our idols and the relentless pursuit of our self-confidence God is driving us, in the church and in the world, to the last stand where we must recognize our dependence upon him or, in vainglorious rebellion, suffer demoralization and dissolution. The crisis of modern mankind is like the crisis of the prophets, the crisis of the Roman Empire in the days of Augustine, and that of the medieval world in the days of the Reformation. The last appeal beyond all finite principalities and powers must soon be made. It cannot he an appeal to the rights of men, of nations or religions but only an appeal to the right of God.

The appeal to the right of God means for the church an appeal to the right of Jesus Christ. It is an appeal not only to the grim reality of the slayer who judges and destroys the self-aggrandizing classes and nations and men. Such an appeal would be impossible and such a loyalty out of question were not men persuaded that this reality, whose ways are again evident in historic processes, is a redeeming and saving reality, and did they not come to some understanding of the manner in which he accomplishes salvation. But such persuasion and such revelation are available only through the event called Jesus Christ. If the church has no other plan of salvation to offer to men than one of deliverance by force, education, idealism or planned economy, it really has no existence as a church and needs to resolve itself into a political party or a school. But it knows of a plan of salvation which is not a plan it has devised. In its revolt it is becoming aware of the truth which it had forgotten or which it had hidden within symbols and myths. There is in the revolt something of the restlessness that comes from a buried memory which presses into consciousness. In some of its aspects it seems to he the blind effort to escape from the knowledge that the church along with the world belongs to the crucifiers rather than to the crucified. It seems to represent the desire to avert the eyes from the cross which stands in the present as in the past, and to turn attention away from ourselves to some other culprits whose sins the innocent must hear. When this memory of Jesus Christ, the crucified, comes fully alive it will not come as a traditional formula or symbol, reminding men only of the past, but as the recollection of a most decisive fact in the present situation of men. The church's remembrance of Jesus Christ will come in contemporary terms, so that it will be able to say: "That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we have beheld and which our hands have handled concerning the Word of life -- that declare we unto you.

Without this beginning in loyalty to God and to Jesus Christ no new beginning of the church's life is possible. But the self-evident truths and the original loyalties of the church can be recaptured and reaffirmed not only as the events in time drive men to their reaffirmation, but as the labor of thought makes intelligible and clear the vague and general perceptions we receive from life. The dependent church rejected theology or found it intelligible because it accepted a "theology" which was not its own, a theory of life which was essentially worldly. It wanted action rather than creeds because its creed was that the action of free, intelligent men was good and that God's action was limited to human agencies of good will. The revolters in the church are learning that without a Christian theory or theology the Christian movement must lose itself in emotions and sentiments or hasten to action which will be premature and futile because it is not based upon a clear analysis of the situation. They have learned from the communists that years spent in libraries and in study are not necessarily wasted years but that years of activity without knowledge are lost years indeed. They have learned from history that every true work of liberation and reformation was at the same time a work of theology. They understand that the dependence of man upon God and the orientation of man's work by reference to God's work require that theology must take the place of the psychology and sociology which were the proper sciences of a Christianity which was dependent on the spirit in man. The theory of the Christian revolution is beginning to unfold itself again as the theory of a divine determinism, of the inevitable divine judgment, and of the salvation of men by the suffering of the innocent. But whatever be the content of the theory a clear understanding of it is needed for the work of emancipation, reorganization and aggression in the Christian community.

It is evident that far more than all this is necessary. There is no easy way in which the church can divorce itself from the world. It cannot flee into asceticism nor seek refuge again in the inner life of the spirit. The road to independence and to aggression is not one which leads straight forward upon one level. How to be in the world and yet not of the world has always been the problem of the church. It is a revolutionary community in a pre-revolutionary society. Its main task always remains that of understanding, proclaiming and preparing for the divine revolution in human life. Nevertheless, there remains the necessity of participation in the affairs of an unconverted and unreborn world. Hence the church's strategy always has a dual character and the dualism is in constant danger of being resolved into the monism of other-worldliness or of this-worldliness, into a more or less quiescent expectancy of a revolution beyond time or of a mere reform program carried on in terms of the existent order. How to maintain the dualism without sacrifice of the main revolutionary interest constitutes one of the important problems of a church moving toward its independence.

Yet it is as futile as it is impossible to project at this moment the solution of problems which will arise in the future. If the future is pregnant with difficulties it is no less full of promise. The movement toward the independence of the church may lead to the development of a new missionary or evangelical movement, to the rise of an effective international Christianity, to the union of the divided parts of the church of Christ, and to the realization in civilization of the unity and peace of the saved children of one God. The fulfillment of hopes and fears cannot be anticipated. The future will vary according to the way in which we deal with the present. And in this present the next step only begins to be visible. The time seems rife for the declaration of the church's independence. Yet even that step cannot be forced; how it will come and under what leadership none can now determine. We can be sure, however, that the repentance and faith working in the rank and file of the church are the preconditions of its independence and renewal.

 

 

ENDNOTE

1. The theory that modern capitalism is a system with a religious foundation and a cultural superstructure obviously runs counter to the widely accepted Marxian doctrine. It is not our intention to deny many elements in the Marxian analysis: the reality of the class struggle, the destructive self-contradiction in modern capitalism, the effect of capitalism upon government, law, the established religion. Neither are we intent upon defending the principle of private property as an adequate basis for the modern economic structure. But we are implying that modern capitalism does not represent the inevitable product of the private property system in which early democracy and Puritanism were interested, that it has corrupted and perverted that system, making of it something which it was never intended to be nor was bound to be. We believe that the economic interpretation of history is itself a product and a statement of the economic faith and that communism is in many ways a variant form of capitalist religion.

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